Chakra Announcements

H.H. Bhakti Tirtha Swami Passes Away

by Vyenkata Bhatta das
ISKCON Communications

Posted June 29, 2005

His Holiness Bhakti Tirtha Swami, a guru and Governing Body Commissioner of the worldwide Hare Krishna movement, passed away of complications from melanoma on June 27 at Gita Nagari, the Krishna community in Pennsylvania, surrounded by friends and followers and the chanting of God's names.He was 55 years old.

Bhakti Tirtha Swami was the world's first African-American Vaishnava guru. Born as John E. Favors to an evangelical Baptist family in Cleveland, Ohio, on February 25, 1950, Swami took part in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s civil rights movement during his youth. After earning his psychology degree from Princeton University in 1972, he began studying the 5,000-year-old Bhagavad-gita and other ancient scriptures.He soon became a disciple of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, who founded the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) and brought the ancient Vaishnava tradition to the west in 1965.

Bhakti Tirtha Swami lectured and wrote extensively on topics ranging from mysticism and bhakti-yoga to leadership for the modern age.Ken Shelton, editor of the professional journal Executive Excellence, said, "his work on leadership sets a new standard, expressly because it explores the spiritual dimension in ways that popular gurus like Stephen R. Covey, Kevin Cashman, and Ken Blanchard have not done."The Hon. Pierre Admossama, retired Director of the UN International Labor Organization, called Maharaja "an example in the truest sense of global principle-centered leadership."

In the 1970s, as a representative of the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, the world's largest publisher of Vedic literature, he travelled at great personal risk to meet with scholars throughout Eastern Europe.In 1979, he took formal vows of sannyasa, dedicating himself to the service of God and humanity as a celibate monk. Later, as an ISKCON leader, he headed community development projects in the United States and around the world, and founded the Institute for Applied Spiritual Technology.

Bhakti Tirtha Maharaja traveled internationally, meeting and sharing his spiritual perspective on contemporary issues with world leaders and scholars, including Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Nelson Mandela. In 1990, Bhakti Tirtha Swami was crowned High Chief in Warri, Nigeria, in recognition of his outstanding work in Africa. He was regularly featured on television and radio programs around the globe, and hosted his own weekly cable show in Washington, D.C.

He authored over 15 critically acclaimed books, including the popular Spiritual Warrior and Beggar series.Many of his books have been translated for international distribution.

In August 2004, Maharaja was diagnosed with malignant skin cancer.In the months that followed, he continued to teach, drawing upon his condition to address the fears, struggles and pains associated with facing death. At the same time, he began what would be his last book, a treatise on viewing death as an opportunity for spiritual growth, entitled Die Before Dying.

For more information on the life and teachings of Bhakti Tirtha Swami, please go to